June 29, 2011

Picking through Tim Pawlenty's Middle East Speech

Let's give Gov. Tim Pawlenty some credit for wading into the Middle East in a serious policy speech yesterday. I'm going to pick through it in this post, taking major issue with some things he said and commenting in a more neutral manner on others. Ready? Okay...

want to speak plainly this morning about the opportunities and the dangers we
face today in the Middle East.  The revolutions now roiling that region
offer the promise of a more democratic, more open, and a more prosperous Arab
world.  From Morocco to the Arabian Gulf, the escape from the dead hand of
oppression is now a real possibility.  


is not the time to retreat from freedom’s rise.

Agreed. Though it was right here that I started to think about how the United States can effectively respond to what is taking place in the Middle East with limited and reduced resources.

at the same time, we know these revolutions can bring to power forces that are
neither democratic nor forward-looking.  Just as the people of Egypt,
Tunisia, Libya, Syria and elsewhere see a chance for a better life of genuine
freedom, the leaders of radical Islam see a chance to ride political turmoil
into power. 

Probably true. Thought not chief among my own concerns about the revolutions in the Arabic-speaking world.

United States has a vital stake in the future of this region.  We have
been presented with a challenge as great as any we have faced in recent
decades.  And we must get it right.  The question is, are we up to
the challenge?  

Probably not, actually. Gov. Pawlenty's teammates in the Congress aim to slash the International Affairs budget.

answer is, of course we are.  


If we are clear about our interests and
guided by our principles, we can help steer events in the right direction.
 Our nation has done this in the past -- at the end of World War II, in
the last decade of the Cold War, and in the more recent war on terror … and we
can do it again.

Sometimes, though, as we have seen in the Middle East, our interests do not match up with our principles.

President Obama has failed to formulate and carry out an effective and coherent
strategy in response to these events.  

This is certainly true. But I have a little sympathy for the president here. It's tough to formulate a coherent regional strategy when our interests vary to such a high degree from country to country.

He has been timid, slow, and too
often without a clear understanding of our interests or a clear commitment to
our principles.

Meh. I actually see the guy's advisors trying to balance our interests against our principles, which is not the easiest thing to do in a region with Saudi Arabia in it.

parts of the Republican Party now seem to be trying to out-bid the Democrats in
appealing to isolationist sentiments.  This is no time for uncertain
leadership in either party.  The stakes are simply too high, and the
opportunity is simply too great. 

Well! At this point in the speech, I started to wonder whether or not we were about to get a taste of the full-throated freedom agenda stuff that kind of died in the maelstrom of Iraq and Israel's debacle in Lebanon in 2006.

one in this Administration predicted the events of the Arab spring - but the
freedom deficit in the Arab world was no secret.  


For 60 years, Western
nations excused and accommodated the lack of freedom in the Middle East.


That could not last.  The days of comfortable private deals with
dictators were coming to an end in the age of Twitter, You Tube, and Facebook.


And history teaches there is no such thing as stable oppression.


Obama has ignored that lesson of history.  Instead of promoting democracy
– whose fruit we see now ripening across the region – he adopted a murky policy
he called “engagement.”  

Not sure how one is the opposite of the other, though I'm now sensing where this is going...

meant that in 2009, when the Iranian ayatollahs stole an election, and the
people of that country rose up in protest, President Obama held his tongue.
 His silence validated the mullahs, despite the blood on their hands and
the nuclear centrifuges in their tunnels.  


protesters were killed and tortured, Secretary Clinton said the Administration
was “waiting to see the outcome of the internal Iranian processes.”  She
and the president waited long enough to see the Green Movement crushed.  

I'm sure the administration has some good reasons for not wanting to openly side with the protesters in 2009 in Iran, but that decision has made the administration an easy target for the other party.

meant that in his first year in office, President Obama cut democracy funding
for Egyptian civil society by 74 percent.  As one American democracy
organization noted, this was “perceived by Egyptian democracy activists as
signaling a lack of support.”  They perceived correctly.  It was a
lack of support.  

Interesting. I had not heard this. It would, of course, be interesting for Gov. Pawlenty to point out here that his own party now controls the purse strings. Should the Congress now spend more on these kinds of democracy promotion programs abroad?

meant that when crisis erupted in Cairo this year, as tens of thousands of
protesters gathered in Tahrir Square, Secretary Clinton declared, “the Egyptian
Government is stable.”  Two weeks later, Mubarak was gone.  When
Secretary Clinton visited Cairo after Mubarak’s fall, democratic activist
groups refused to meet with her.  And who can blame them?

Plenty of activists met with Sec. Clinton, actually, though Gov. Pawlenty is correct that the United States was on the wrong side of history on Egypt.

forces we now need to succeed in Egypt -- the pro-democracy, secular political
parties -- these are the very people President Obama cut off, and Secretary
Clinton dismissed.  

This is weak sauce. You can't blame the U.S. government for the fact that secular political parties are not stronger than they are.

Obama “engagement” policy in Syria led the Administration to call Bashar al
Assad a “reformer.”  Even as Assad’s regime was shooting hundreds of
protesters dead in the street, President Obama announced his plan to give Assad
“an alternative vision of himself.”  Does anyone outside a therapist’s
office have any idea what that means?  This is what passes for moral
clarity in the Obama Administration.  

I'm with Gov. Pawlenty on this one, but there is a contradiction coming up later. Wait for it.

contrast, I called for Assad’s departure on March 29; I call for it again
today.  We should recall our ambassador from Damascus; and I call for that
again today.  The leader of the United States should never leave those
willing to sacrifice their lives in the cause of freedom wondering where
America stands.  As President, I will not.


need a president who fully understands that America never “leads from behind.”

Oh, man. Whichever advisor uttered those infamous words in front of a reporter from the New Yorker needs to be flogged.

cannot underestimate how pivotal this moment is in Middle Eastern history.
 We need decisive, clear-eyed leadership that is responsive to this
historical moment of change in ways that are consistent with our deepest principles
and safeguards our vital interests.


still exists amid the turmoil of the Arab Spring -- and we should seize it.

Hahaha, Tim Pawlenty sounds like Brad Pitt's Achilles from that horrible Troy movie. I'm fired up, Tim! Let's storm the beach!

I see it, the governments of the Middle East fall into four broad categories,
and each requires a different strategic approach. 

Just four?

first category consists of three countries now at various stages of transition
toward democracy – the formerly fake republics in Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya.
 Iraq is also in this category, but is further along on its journey toward


these countries, our goal should be to help promote freedom and democracy.

Okay, I'll buy that.

that produce anti-democratic regimes undermine both freedom and stability.
 We must do more than monitor polling places.  We must redirect
foreign aid away from efforts to merely build good will, and toward efforts to
build good allies -- genuine democracies governed by free people according to
the rule of law.  And we must insist that our international partners get
off the sidelines and do the same.  

Okay, but now I'm starting to ask those questions about where the money for this will come from.

should have no illusions about the difficulty of the transitions faced by
Libya, Tunisia, and especially Egypt.  Whereas Libya is rich in oil, and
Tunisia is small, Egypt is large, populous, and poor.  Among the region’s
emerging democracies, it remains the biggest opportunity and the biggest danger
for American interests.  


ejected the Mubarak regime, too many Egyptians are now rejecting the beginnings
of the economic opening engineered in the last decade.  

True. But that liberalization allowed Egypt's economy to grow but only benefitted a small percentage of the richest Egyptians. Sounds a lot like another country I know, actually.

We act out of
friendship when we tell Egyptians, and every new democracy, that economic
growth and prosperity are the result of free markets and free trade—not
subsidies and foreign aid.  If we want these countries to succeed, we must
afford them the respect of telling them the truth.  

Nothing controversial there. A lot of truth, in fact. Read the Economist's special briefing on the Egyptian economy for more.

Libya, the best help America can provide to these new friends is to stop
leading from behind and commit America’s strength to removing Ghadafi,
recognizing the TNC as the government of Libya, and unfreezing assets so the
TNC can afford security and essential services as it marches toward Tripoli.

I'm with this. The United States either needs to focus on a) removing Qadhdhafi or b) supporting the TNC militarily and politicially. One or the other. If Gov. Pawlenty wants to do that latter, I'm down with that. By the way, there's that "leading from behind" phrase again. Expect to hear a lot more of that in 2011 and 2012.

Libya, America should always promote the universal principles that undergird
freedom.  We should press new friends to end discrimination against women,
to establish independent courts, and freedom of speech and the press.  We
must insist on religious freedoms for all, including the region’s
minorities—whether Christian, Shia, Sunni, or Bahai.  


second category of states is the Arab monarchies.  Some – like Jordan and
Morocco – are engaging now in what looks like genuine reform.  This should
earn our praise and our assistance.  These kings have understood they must
forge a partnership with their own people, leading step by step toward more
democratic societies.  These monarchies can smooth the path to
constitutional reform and freedom and thereby deepen their own legitimacy.
 If they choose this route, they, too, deserve our help.  

I'm skeptical of how far Jordan is going to promote reform, actually. They still have one of the more brutal secret police in the region. But okay, I'll go along with this.

others are resisting reform. While President Obama spoke well about Bahrain in
his recent speech, he neglected to utter two important words:  Saudi


relations are at an all-time low—and not primarily because of the Arab Spring.
 They were going downhill fast, long before the uprisings began.  The
Saudis saw an American Administration yearning to engage Iran—just at the time
they saw Iran, correctly, as a mortal enemy.  

Oh boy, where are we going with this, Gov. Pawlenty?

need to tell the Saudis what we think, which will only be effective if we have
a position of trust with them.

Relationships of trust with the Saudis are built over decades, by the way.

We will develop that trust by
demonstrating that we share their great concern about Iran and that we are
committed to doing all that is necessary to defend the region from Iranian

Maybe. But I have spoken with a lot of high-ranking Saudi officials and princes, and all of them agree on two things: a) the United States must attack Iran because an Iranian bomb would destabilize the region and b) the United States must not attack Iran because a U.S. strike would destabilize the region. I wish Gov. Pawlenty the best in trying to reconcile this mixed message.

the same time, we need to be frank about what the Saudis must do to insure
stability in their own country.  Above all, they need to reform and open
their society.  Their treatment of Christians and other minorities, and
their treatment of women, is indefensible and must change.

Amen. But this is not the way to build up a position of trust with Saudi Arabia.

know that reform will come to Saudi Arabia—sooner and more smoothly if the
royal family accepts and designs it.  It will come later and with
turbulence and even violence if they resist.  The vast wealth of their
country should be used to support reforms that fit Saudi history and culture—but
not to buy off the people as a substitute for lasting reform.


third category consists of states that are directly hostile to America.
 They include Iran and Syria.  The Arab Spring has already vastly
undermined the appeal of Al Qaeda and the killing of Osama Bin Laden has
significantly weakened it.

True. I might have myself
argued much the same thing.

success of peaceful protests in several Arab countries has shown the world that
terror is not only evil, but will eventually be overcome by good.
 Peaceful protests may soon bring down the Assad regime in Syria.

Peaceful protests? Probably not. Civil war? Maybe.

The 2009 protests in Iran inspired Arabs to seek their freedom.
 Similarly, the Arab protests of this year, and the fall of regime after
broken regime, can inspire Iranians to seek their freedom once again.  

Let's hope.

have a clear interest in seeing an end to Assad’s murderous regime.  By
sticking to Bashar al Assad so long, the Obama Administration has not only
frustrated Syrians who are fighting for freedom—it has demonstrated strategic
blindness.  The governments of Iran and Syria are enemies of the United States.
 They are not reformers and never will be.  They support each other.
 To weaken or replace one, is to weaken or replace the other.


fall of the Assad mafia in Damascus would weaken Hamas, which is headquartered
there.  It would weaken Hezbollah, which gets its arms from Iran, through
Syria.  And it would weaken the Iranian regime itself.    

I'm going to give Gov. Pawlenty a pass on this for the moment. You'll understand why later.

take advantage of this moment, we should press every diplomatic and economic
channel to bring the Assad reign of terror to an end.  We need more
forceful sanctions to persuade Syria’s Sunni business elite that Assad is too
expensive to keep backing.  We need to work with Turkey and the Arab
nations and the Europeans, to further isolate the regime.  And we need to
encourage opponents of the regime by making our own position very clear, right
now:  Bashar al-Assad must go.  


he does, the mullahs of Iran will find themselves isolated and vulnerable.
 Syria is Iran’s only Arab ally.  If we peel that away, I believe it
will hasten the fall of the mullahs.  And that is the ultimate goal we
must pursue.  It’s the singular opportunity offered to the world by the
brave men and women of the Arab Spring.

I'm with the governor here.

march of freedom in the Middle East cuts across the region’s diversity of
religious, ethnic, and political groups.  But it is born of a particular
unity.  It is a united front against stolen elections and stolen liberty,
secret police, corruption, and the state-sanctioned violence that is the
essence of the Iranian regime’s tyranny.  


this is a moment to ratchet up pressure and speak with clarity.  More
sanctions.  More and better broadcasting into Iran.  More assistance
to Iranians to access the Internet and satellite TV and the knowledge and
freedom that comes with it.  More efforts to expose the vicious repression
inside that country and expose Teheran’s regime for the pariah it is.  


very critically, we must have more clarity when it comes to Iran’s nuclear
program.  In 2008, candidate Barack Obama told AIPAC that he would “always
keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our
ally Israel.”  This year, he told AIPAC “we remain committed to preventing
Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”  So I have to ask: are all the
options still on the table or not?  If he’s not clear with us, it’s no
wonder that even our closest allies are confused.    

Gov. Pawlenty, I have a question: would you launch military strikes against Iran to prevent the Iranians from acquiring nuclear weapons? (y/n)

Administration should enforce all sanctions for which legal authority already
exits.  We should enact and then enforce new pending legislation which
strengthens sanctions particularly against the Iranian Revolutionary Guards who
control much of the Iranian economy. 

Again, what about strikes?

in the middle of all this, is Israel. 

Actually, to the left and upper right of all this.

is unique in the region because of what it stands for and what it has
accomplished.  And it is unique in the threat it faces—the threat of
annihilation.  It has long been a bastion of democracy in a region of
tyranny and violence.  And it is by far our closest ally in that part of
the world.  


wars and terrorists attacks, Israel offers all its citizens, men and women,
Jews, Christians, Muslims and, others including 1.5 million Arabs, freedom of
religion, freedom of speech, the right to vote, access to independent courts
and all other democratic rights.  

[Lips bitten. I suspect Arab Israelis and Palestinians living under occupation might have a few words to say, though.]

has President Obama’s lack of judgment been more stunning than in his dealings
with Israel.


breaks my heart that President Obama treats Israel, our great friend, as a
problem, rather than as an ally.

This is complete B.S. And Americans do not buy it.

The President seems to genuinely believe
the Israeli-Palestinian conflict lies at the heart of every problem in the
Middle East.  He said it Cairo in 2009 and again this year.   

This is also complete B.S. But you know who does care about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? All those Arab democrats you've been talking about for the past 10 minutes.

Obama could not be more wrong.  


uprisings in Tunis, Cairo, Tripoli and elsewhere are not about Israelis and

This is actually true. But just because the uprisings were not about Israel does not mean our secular, Arab democratic heroes do not care about the Palestinians.

They’re about oppressed people yearning for freedom and
prosperity.  Whether those countries become prosperous and free is not
about how many apartments Israel builds in Jerusalem.

See previous.

the president doesn’t really have a policy toward the peace process.  He has
an attitude.  And let’s be frank about what that attitude is:  he
thinks Israel is the problem.  And he thinks the answer is always more
pressure on Israel.  

Okay, this is nonsense, and most Americans do not buy this. Most Jewish American voters do not buy this either and are not animated by this nonsense. But I suspect that most of this is not directed at Jewish voters but rather at conservative Evangelical Christian voters -- the kind who vote in Republican primary elections.

reject that anti-Israel attitude.  I reject it because Israel is a close
and reliable democratic ally.  And I reject it because I know the people
of Israel want peace. 

They most certainly do. Here's a question I have for Gov. Pawlenty, though: he realizes that many Israelis are scared to death about what will follow the al-Asad regime in Syria, right? I ask this because he seems to argue that we should a) support Israel on everything but b) work toward the overthrow of the al-Asad regime. What will Gov. Pawlenty do when our Israeli friends voice their concerns about post-Asad Syria?

– Palestinian peace is further away now than the day Barack Obama came to
office.  But that does not have to be a permanent situation. 

Correlation =/= causation. Domestic Israeli and Palestinian politics might have more to do with this situation than the occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

must recognize that peace will only come if everyone in the region perceives
clearly that America stands strongly with Israel.  

I would love to hear Gov. Pawlenty prove why this statement is true.

would take a new approach.


I would never undermine Israel’s negotiating position, nor pressure it to
accept borders which jeopardize security and its ability to defend itself.


I would not pressure Israel to negotiate with Hamas or a Palestinian government
that includes Hamas, unless Hamas renounces terror, accepts Israel’s right to
exist, and honors the previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. In short, Hamas
needs to cease being a terrorist group in both word and deed as a first step
towards global legitimacy.


I would ensure our assistance to the Palestinians immediately ends if the
teaching of hatred in Palestinian classrooms and airwaves continues. That
incitement must end now. 


I would recommend cultivating and empowering moderate forces in Palestinian

This is a new approach, actually. The first, second, and fourth points sound a lot like the approach taken by the Bush Administration between 2000 and 2006. But even the Bush Administration continued support for Palestinian security forces in the face of anti-Israeli sentiment among Palestinians. So this is actually more hardline than even the George W. Bush administration. And how the hell do you do #3 and #4 simultaneously? Also, good luck doing what you have just described in the above while at the same time engaging with Arab civil society and the new governments of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya as described earlier.

the Palestinians have leaders who are honest and capable, who appreciate the
rule of law, who understand that war against Israel has doomed generations of
Palestinians to lives of bitterness, violence, and poverty – then peace will

Demonstrably false, actually. See Fayyad, Salam.

Middle East is changing before our eyes—but our government has not kept up.
 It abandoned the promotion of democracy just as Arabs were about to seize


It sought to cozy up to dictators just as their own people rose
against them.  It downplayed our principles and distanced us from key

Like Hosni Mubarak? Oh, wait, you mean Israel.

this was wrong, and these policies have failed.  The Administration has
abandoned them, and at the price of American leadership.  A region that
since World War II has looked to us for security and progress now wonders where
we are and what we’re up to.

That's probably true. But I think U.S. influence in the region is on the wane anyway, and I am not sure this is entirely bad.

next president must do better. Today, in our own Republican Party, some look
back and conclude our projection of strength and defense of freedom was a
product of different times and different challenges.  While times have
changed, the nature of the challenge has not.  

Well, let's give Gov. Pawlenty credit for making it clear where he stands on the primacy/restraint divide within the G.O.P.

the 1980s, we were up against a violent, totalitarian ideology bent on
subjugating the people and principles of the West.  While others sought to
co-exist, President Reagan instead sought victory.

Aaaaaand also withdrew from Lebanon in the face of violent Islamist extremism.

So must we, today.
 For America is exceptional, and we have the moral clarity to lead the


is not wrong for Republicans to question the conduct of President Obama’s
military leadership in Libya.  There is much to question.


And it is
not wrong for Republicans to debate the timing of our military drawdown in
Afghanistan— though my belief is that General Petraeus’ voice ought to carry the most weight on that

Half true. The president's voice should carry the most weight on that question, though I wish he trusted his field commanders more than he apparently does. 

is wrong, is for the Republican Party to shrink from the challenges of American
leadership in the world.  History repeatedly warns us that in the long
run, weakness in foreign policy costs us and our children much more than we’ll
save in a budget line item.  

Again, bold words for his own party.

already has one political party devoted to decline, retrenchment, and
withdrawal.  It does not need a second one.

Wow. I suspect we're going to see this "Democrats = Isolationism" meme more in 2011 and 2012.

enemies in the War on Terror, just like our opponents in the Cold War, respect
and respond to strength.

Oh, goodness, has he been reading this?

Sometimes strength means military intervention.
 Sometimes it means diplomatic pressure.  It always means moral
clarity in word and deed.  


is the legacy of Republican foreign policy at its best, and the banner our next
Republican President must carry around the world.   


ideals of economic and political freedom, of equality and opportunity for all
citizens, remain the dream of people in the Middle East and throughout the
world.  As America stands for these principles, and stands with our
friends and allies, we will help the Middle East transform this moment of
turbulence into a firmer, more lasting opportunity for freedom, peace, and



Thank you.